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Jólabókaflóð: An Icelandic “Christmas Book Flood”

Jólabókaflóð is an Icelandic tradition that roughly translates to “Christmas Book Flood.”

It is customary for every person in Iceland to receive at least one book on Christmas Eve, so that means many books are sold during this time of year.

Iceland publishes more books per capita than any other country in the world. A majority of the books published in Iceland each year come out during the Christmas season.


The “Christmas Book Flood” dates back to World War II. Paper was one of the few things not being rationed in Iceland, so books were a popular gift choice during the holiday season. The tradition of giving books as gifts continues to be deeply rooted in Icelandic culture.

The excitement begins in the fall when Bókatíðindi (“Book Bulletin”) arrives in the mailbox.

Bókatíðindi is an annual catalog, sent free to every Icelandic household since 1944, listing all of the books available for purchase in Iceland during the Christmas season.

Televised interviews with authors, commercials advertising books, and discussions about new releases are also popular leading up to the holiday.

An Icelandic Christmas Eve

It is tradition to settle in for the night with hot cocoa or an alcohol-free Christmas ale called jólabland and your new books until you fall asleep.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

read your books on Christmas Eve

More About Christmas in Iceland

  • Christmas is known as Jól (Yule).
  • Happy/Merry Christmas/Yule in Icelandic is “Gleðileg jól.”
  • Jóladagur (Christmas Day/Yule Day) is spent with family.
  • The traditional main meal includes a leg of roast lamb called “hangikjöt.
  • Laufabrauð, or “leaf bread,” are wafer-thin deep-fried sheets of pastry with decorative patterns served during the holiday season. See how they’re made here.
  • Grýla is the mother of the 13 Yule Lads. She lives in the Icelandic mountains with her children, her third husband, and a black cat. She is described as being part troll and part animal. She comes down from the mountains every Christmas, in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron. The Yule Lads come down too – looking for mischief.
  • An Icelandic folktale states that everyone must get a new piece of clothing for Christmas. If they don’t, they will be eaten by the Christmas Cat.
  • Icelanders have 13 Yule Lads, “Santas,” that visit one by one in the days before Christmas, leaving small gifts in shoes left out by children. If a potato is left instead, uh oh… Learn more with The Legend of the Icelandic Yule Lads by Heidi Herman.

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Photo Credit (c) Can Stock Photo / AlexLMX